Haiti Archives 1995-1996
05/03/96 THIS WEEK IN HAITI February 28 – March 5, 1996 Vol. 13, No. 49

“This Week in Haiti” is the English section of HAITI PROGRES newsweekly.

For information on other news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551

HAITI PROGRES “Le journal qui offre une alternative”

TROUBLE BREWING AS PARLIAMENT STARTS RATIFYING NEW PRIME MINISTER

As Haiti lurched through its third week with Rene Preval as President, problems are arising much more quickly than a new government, which has yet to be formed.

Only late on Feb. 27 did both houses of Parliament agree to accept Rony Smarth as Preval’s nominee for Prime Minister. Preval had named Smarth to the post 11 days earlier, but Carnival and political wrangling slowed the confirmation process. Questions were raised, particularly among the deputies, as to whether Smarth had held a “political” post when he worked for both the Mexican and Nicaraguan governments in the 1980s and whether he might no longer be a Haitian citizen. If either charge had been determined valid, it would have disqualified him from being prime minister under the 1987 Constitution.

Now Smarth has cleared the first in a two hurdle ratification process. Next, lawmakers must approve his political program. A no-confidence vote for Smarth’s agenda would force Preval to make a new nomination. Approval would allow the Prime Minister to announce his cabinet and get to work.

And work there is. Garbage is piling up to Himalayan proportions throughout the capital, reducing many streets to one lane. Traffic has also become a nightmare, with motorists spending hours to make trips which used to take minutes. The cost of living continues to soar, with the U.S. dollar this week bringing 236% of its original 5-gourdes exchange rate.

Indicative of popular response was the action taken by residents in the Pont Rouge district of the capital. Canals running through their slum became clogged when heavy rains last week washed garbage, vegetation, and ramshackle homes down the capital’s hills and ravines. The Department of Public Works began clearing an industrial area before the residential ones, so Pont Rouge residents took “hostages”: 11 trucks, 3 tractors, and 1 pick-up being used to do the clean-up. After 4 days of the “hostage crisis,” which closed down all roads in that area, the residents returned the keys for the vehicles on Feb. 26 after receiving assurances from Public Works officials that the canals would be cleaned correctly.

With the situation degenerating, there is a changing of the guard underway for the official brass of the U.N. occupation, who seem delighted to be getting out in time. On Feb. 26, Preval held a farewell award ceremony to honor the occupation’s 3 principal actors to date: head of the U.N. Mission (MINUHA) and Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General, Lakhdar Brahimi; head of the U.N. military force, U.S. Major General Joseph Kinzer; and head of the U.N. Civilian Police Force (CIVPOL),

Joseph Poulliot. Brahimi accepted his award “with much pride” and said: “I leave light hearted because I trust in the Haitian people… [and] in Ti Rene, President of the Republic.” After all, “it is the Haitian people who liberated themselves… [and] who triumphed,” Brahimi intoned, trying to hide how the U.S./U.N. occupation has locked Haiti into an even greater spiral of violence and impoverishment by foiling justice and enforcing neoliberal reforms.

Gen. Kinzer also accepted his medal with “a deep sense of pride and humility” for having been able “to help Haiti on this journey to democracy.” He concluded: “There are two special people I’d like to thank. One is my mentor, professor Lakhdar Brahimi. And finally, our almighty God for giving us the power, the wisdom, the guidance, and the direction to make it happen.” Kind of chokes you up, doesn’t it?

But it might indeed take an act of God to get the U.N. Security Council to extend the MINUHA’s mandate, which runs out Feb. 29. In a Feb. 14 report, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recommended that the MINUHA’s strength after Feb. 29 be set at “1,600 infantry personnel, 300 combat support personnel, [and] 300 CIVPOL” (along with about 300 U.N. civilian personnel) for another 6 months. However, at this writing, China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, remains poised to veto the essentially U.S.-backed push to extend the MINUHA.

China was angered that Preval chose to invite the Taiwanese vice- president with a 40-person delegation for the Feb. 7 inauguration. Furthermore, China argues, the U.N. is bankrupt and the Haiti operation, like all other U.N. military operations worldwide, is in arrears. China proposed a 2 month extension with 1200 troops instead of Boutros-Ghali’s original 2200. After consultations late Feb. 27, the U.S. offered China a compromise deal of 1400 troops for 4 months, but Associated Press reports that “council diplomats were not optimistic China would accept the proposal.”

Even if China does veto the MINUHA’s extension, the U.S. would surely try to find another front for the occupation with some other regional body, most likely the Organization of American States or perhaps a make-shift alliance of “Caribbean states” as manufactured for the 1983 Grenada invasion.

In any case, at least 400 U.S. soldiers, disguised as “road engineers” and the like, will remain in Haiti for another year, Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan, commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, announced Feb. 27. “You want to stay engaged in Haiti because it’s in its infant stages,” Sheehan said to explain why U.S. troops would remain. But watch out, General. With U.S. troops protecting FRAPH and other putchists, with hunger and violence escalating, with all the promises of “Operation Restore Democracy” unfulfilled, the “infant” Haitian people are learning fast.

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